King County Councilmembers Larry Gossett and Joe McDermott recently introduced legislation on how the County will honor requests by the federal government on the detention of immigrants in the King County Jail. The ordinance calls for the continued detention of offenders accused of serious criminal offenses while refusing extended detention for those accused of minor crimes.
“This legislation affirms that we have in place a criminal justice system that provides security for our communities. It is also encourages Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to be true to its stated goal of prioritizing the detention of undocumented individuals who have or are committing serious crimes in our society,” said Gossett, the Chair of the County Council. “We must have one set of laws for everyone, regardless of their immigration status, gender, sexual orientation and race. Simply put, we as government leaders in Martin Luther King, Jr. County will no longer honor ICE holds of persons who are accused of minor crimes or who have no charges against them.”
“This legislation aims to strike the necessary balance between protecting our civil liberties and keeping our communities safe. Our proposal aligns with the County’s work to achieve equity for all our residents,” said McDermott.
In 2008, Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to expand its efforts to target noncitizens with serious criminal convictions for arrest and deportation. In conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE developed the Secure Communities program, which includes a provision for the sharing of fingerprint data collected from local jails for identifying individuals detained to see if they should be investigated for immigration proceedings.
While the Secure Communities program has been modified to focus on those who have been accused of serious crimes, ICE can still request law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants for up to an additional 24 hours beyond when they would be normally processed and released from the detention facility. Many immigrant advocates believe these “holds” are being used to check on the immigration status of those detained, regardless of the offense they were arrested for.
To enhance public safety and public health throughout the County, the Council adopted legislation in 2009 that made county services available to all residents regardless of citizenship or immigration status. It codified policies that included King County Sheriff’s deputies being unable to request specific documents, such as passports, alien registration cards or work permits, for the sole purpose of determining whether the individual has violated federal civil immigration laws and that Public Health could not make immigration status a condition for receiving health services.
“I cannot fulfill my obligation to protect people if they are afraid to call the police because they fear being deported,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “King County’s current practice of universally honoring ICE detainer requests leads to distrust and fear between immigrant communities and the police. I support a different approach.”
The legislation proposed by Gossett and McDermott would expand the 2009 ordinance by limiting those immigrants who could be held for extended detention to individuals who have been convicted of a violent or serious crime. ICE would need to provide documented proof of their conviction for the individual to be detained beyond the normal processing period after their arrest.